“The God Who Still Speaks” A Sermon on John 16:12-15

I come from a small family. My father was an only child and my mother had one sister. I never had a cousin. When I was a kid I had cousin envy.

My mother’s older sister, my aunt Grace, outlived my mother by forty years. My mother died at 53 when I was 18, and Grace lived to be 93. She never had any children, so my siblings and I were like her children.

She was a devout Christian, an active Presbyterian (but we won’t hold that against her), and was very proud that her nephew was a minister. Sometimes too proud! So much so that I had to watch her caregivers in the nursing center roll their eyes when she introduced me as “my nephew the minister.” They had all met me many times, but she was a little forgetful in her later years, although still pretty sharp when she died at the age of 93.

She liked to ask me theological questions. One day she said, “I don’t understand the Trinity!” I wanted to say, “You are in good company,” but since I am the family representative on things theological, I did the best I could to help her out.

She said, “I have always prayed to the Father, but my minister said we can pray to any of the persons of the Trinity, because they are all God. She said, “I understand the Father, the creator of all things, and I understand Jesus, but I am not sure about the HolySpirit. What exactly is it?”

“The first thing to remember,” I said, “is the Holy Spirit isn’t an it, but a he. And a good argument can be made that the Spirit is a she, since the word for spirit in Hebrew, ruach, and Greek, pnuema, are both feminine nouns.” Not to mention the intriguing character of Dame Wisdom who was with God at the beginning of Creation, as in the Prologue of Proverbs we heard today. So, he or she, but never it.

My Aunt Grace chuckled. I continued. The Holy Spirit is not an it, because God is personal, and God’s Spirit is personal, too. The Spirit is invisible, but not impersonal. It is not “the Force,” like in StarWars.

I suggested to my aunt that she might think of the Trinity the way I imagine the earliest Christians did. Their God was the God of Israel, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, the God of their Ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus talked about this God, and called him “Father.” In fact, the word Jesus used in Aramaic, Abba, was a diminutive, more like Daddy than the more formal Father. It implied intimacy and affection.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the church thought more and more of God the Father and Jesus as sharing an identity, so much so that they called them both by the name previously reserved for the Father, “Lord,” which just also happened to be the title given to the Roman Emperor Caesar. Calling Jesus “Lord” in those times was a political act, and could get you in trouble and become lion’s food in the Coliseum.

The church began to think of Jesus as God’s human representative. Or to put it another way, Jesus was the human face of God. God in person, we might say. In time the church developed the doctrine of the incarnation. As First Corinthians 5:19 says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” So, that helps understand the relationship between the Father and Jesus.

But what about the Holy Spirit, where does he come in? Jesus had promised the disciples that after he left them, the Spirit would come to tell them all that they needed to know. Our Gospel lesson from John today has Jesus telling them: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

This points to what the church fathers referred to as “the mutual indwelling” of the three persons. It’s been described as a dance, like a contra dance, where the dance is bigger than the dancers, but each dancer maintains a strict identity. Keeping in mind that most all human analogies for the Trinity end up as heresy.

If we think of Jesus as God “in person,” the human face of God, then we might think of the Spirit as “God present.” It is the Holy Spirit that makes Jesus our contemporary and not just an inspiring dead man from long ago. It is God’s Spirit that allows us to know his presence and power now. That means the God we worship is alive and still acting and speaking and not just a deity we have heard reports about from the past.

My aunt’s minister was right, “You can pray to any person of the Trinity because they are all God.” When my aunt said she prayed to the Father, she was reflecting the most typical way Christians have prayed, and the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

The most often used form in worship is to pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.” I like that.

But that is not the only way Christians can pray. There are other prayers in the Bible that address the other persons of the Trinity, can you think of any? How about: “Come, Lord Jesus,” and “Come, Holy Spirit, come,” prayers to the second and third person.

So, it is no accident that I speak of prayer and worship when I talk about the Trinity, because that is the context in which it makes the most sense. It was in worship that the earliest Christians understood God in three modes of being. They worshiped the God of Israel and remembered Jesus and experienced his presence through the Holy Spirit. And yet they knew that this was not three different Gods, but the one God in three modes of being, each separate, but sharing the unity of the Godhead.

This Triune God is a God who still comes among his people in presence and power. This God still speaks, and that is a good thing, too, because the way the world is continues to challenge us to hear what God would say to us.

The Bible is our authoritative text, but it is only the living God who can turn the dead letter into a live word to us. That puts upon the church the responsibility of being a community of discernment and imagination.

I think of a sermon as an act of religious imagination in which the text of Scripture is put in conversation with the context of our contemporary world and our lives.

Think about this for a minute. The Bible knew nothing of greenhouse gasses and partial-term abortions. It knew nothing of SUVs or 401ks, nothing of computer chips or video games, nothing of airplanes or auto­ mobiles, much less of space travel, of FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter.

So, it is not just enough to say, “the Bible says,” because there is a lot it doesn’t say. And some of what it does say we have to reject, such polygamy, child sacrifice, and stoning adulterers to pick just a couple of examples( Not to mention no lobster rolls or pulled pork.)

Nonetheless, the Bible is a reliable guide for faith, because it tells us enough of who God is and what God does for us to discern what God says to us today. God has given us reason to think things through and a conscience to sort the good from the bad.

We have to listen carefully to what God might say to us in these days from what we do know. And the Bible does tell us about many things. It tells us about mercy and forgiveness, about love and justice, about wealth and poverty, about faithfulness and discipleship, about stewardship and mission, about wisdom and folly, about life and death.

And if we live as long as my aunt Grace, and listen to the God who still speaks, and follow his Son Jesus, and attend to God’s living Spirit, we just may live as good and full and faithful life as she did.  And that would be a good thing. Amen.

(I preached this sermon at the United Congregational Church of Little Compton, RI on June 16, 2019).

Seared Sea Scallops with Pepper Garlic Saffron Linguini

This is really one of those “no recipe” recipes that you throw together and comes out great. The better the sea scallops, the better the result, so I recommend “dry” (also known as “diver”) scallops, although I have to admit I’ve had pretty good results with frozen wild-caught American sea scallops. (Yes, I know all scallops come from the sea, but “sea scallops” are the big ones to differentiate them from the smaller “bay scallops” or the the even smaller “calico scallops.”)

The trick with this dish is to use two pans. I sear the scallops in my well-seasoned cast iron skillet, while I sauté the garlic and red pepper in a stainless pan (you could use non-stick) that is big enough to hold the pasta.

Ingredients

1/2 TBS butter or less

2TBS extra virgin olive oil

2 gloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

Dry crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

½ cup of dry (preferably French) vermouth or dry white wine

1 lb. seas scallops (dried with paper towels.)

½ lb. of linguini

Pinch of saffron threads (crushed in a mortar if you want.)

Recipe

Salt the water for the pasta and bring it to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat your cast iron pan over high heat and put in a little butter (you don’t want too much, since you want to sear them, not fry them.) Make sure your scallops are dry or they won’t sear. Add scallops.

You want to cook them until they are brown and crusty on one side (peek at them using tongs.) When they are brown on one side turn them over and turn the heat to low for three minutes. Remove scallops to a plate, and deglaze the pan with the vermouth or white wine.

While the scallops are searing heat your other pan, not too hot, put the oil in, add the chopped garlic and crushed red pepper flakes (to taste) and sauté. Don’t let your garlic burn. When the garlic is brown add the deglazing vermouth from the other pan and the crushed saffron threads

When the pasta is done, save a half cup of the cooking water, and then drain the pasta, and add it to the oil, garlic pan. Add the pasta water. Turn the heat up and cook the pasta for about a minute, tossing to mix the ingredients. Add the cooked scallops, grind black pepper to taste and serve onto hot plates.

Serve with a crisp white wine.

“Down with Chaos!” A Devotion on Psalm 93:4

“More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!”—Psalm 93: 4 (NRSV)

Before there was something there was nothing. The proto-physicist(s) who imagined the creation of the universe “in the beginning” described a formless emptiness. To the Ancients water, especially the sea, was a symbol of chaos, understood as disorder, tumult, and confusion.

I once visited a friend of mine in the hospital who had just suffered a stroke. I asked him how he was and he answered, “It is all ‘tohu wa-bohu,’” which is the Biblical Hebrew translated as “formless void.” He had grown up in Beirut and spoke Arabic, which has a very similar term for chaos. My friend likened his mind’s confusion and sense of disorder to the primordial chaos of Genesis 1.

We have all from time to time experienced chaos in our lives. Sudden changes can throw our world into disorder. Daily we witness on the news confusion and disorder in our country and among the nations.

Psalm 93 begins a series of psalms that proclaim the absolute sovereignty of God. Our passage for today asserts God’s sovereignty by proclaiming that God’s majesty is mightier even than the waves of the sea. In other words, God has control over chaos.

How, when and where God exercises that sovereignty remains mysterious, but we are assured that ultimately God will be up and chaos will be down. May it be so!

Prayer: God of majesty and might, bring order to chaos, understanding to confusion, and your sweet peace to every place of disruption.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for May 29, 2019. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“Breaking chains, Opening Doors” A Sermon on Acts 16:16-34

Today is the Seventh and final Sunday in Easter and we have had several readings from the Book of Acts that emphasize the power of Jesus’ resurrection during the rise of the early church. Continue reading

“By the River” A Sermon on Acts 16: 9-15 and Revelation 22: 1-5

You may have noticed there is a lot about rivers in the service. A river is featured prominently in both our readings for today. One is an actual river in the ancient city of Philippi, where Paul went to pray, and where he met Lydia. The other river is from John the Divine’s vision of the New Jerusalem, where a river runs through the heavenly city. Continue reading

My Blog is Ten Years’ Old: A Retrospective

In the Beginning: 2009-2010

I’d like to thank all of you who have dropped by this blog over the years. It is hard for me to believe a decade has passed since I began it. I started to write again as a personal act of healing which in time morphed into a new chapter of my ministry. Continue reading

“Superpowers” A Devotion on Acts 5: 14-15

“Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by.” —Acts 5: 14-15 (NRSV)

Sometimes when I read from The Acts of the Apostles I am envious. I read about the extraordinary signs and wonders the Apostles accomplished in Jesus’ name, the great crowds they brought into the church, and the numerous people they healed. Continue reading